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Cafetalk: Private Lessons Using Skype!

15 Oct

Have you heard of Cafetalk? You must check it out. It is one of my favorite Japanese-learning resources! (Special promotional link at the end of this post!)

Cafetalk is a website that connects you to tutors from all over the world. The tutors teach languages (TONS of Japanese teachers!), music (piano, voice, ukulele, etc), arts and crafts, hula, abacus/soroban, and a lot more. There are thousands of lessons offered.

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As you know, I am passionate about exposing my children to as much Japanese language and culture as possible, so I searched the Cafetalk website for tutors who teach Japanese to children. I was a little bit overwhelmed with all the choices, so I asked a Cafetalk representative to recommend teachers to me (you can chat, call, or email them and they are very helpful!).

I registered online (very easy), entered my Skype name (you must have Skype to use Cafe Talk), then signed up for some lessons! It was all very straight-forward, and I thought the lessons were priced very reasonably (cheaper than hiring a tutor to come to my house). Many tutors even offer free or discounted Trial Lessons.

The day of our first lesson came, and my kids sat anxiously in front of our computer, waiting for our Skype tutor to call us. The lesson was for my two older kids, but Baby Sister wanted to join in the fun.

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Our tutors were always right on time. I love that. And I love that we didn’t have to leave the house, and my kids could be in pajamas.

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I sent each tutor specific requests before each lesson. For example, “I want them to practice katakana”, or “Could you help them increase their vocabulary?”. The tutors went above and beyond my expectations, catering their lessons to my children and sending a follow-up message after the lesson was over, which included what was taught during the lesson, and what my kids could work on during the week. One of the tutors sent me a message ahead time asking me to print out a worksheet to use during the lesson.

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One tutor did such a great job keeping my kids engaged during their entire 20-minute lesson. She used a game of guesstures to teach action words. My kids loved it, as evidenced by this video! My kids are always sad when their lesson comes to a close.

 

Sometimes the lessons were face-to-face conversations,  and sometimes the tutor would use a feature on Skype where they can type on the screen during the lesson. I thought that was pretty neat. Here’s an example from when my kids were practicing katakana:

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Overall I was very pleased with our Cafetalk experience. I was impressed with the number and quality of tutors available on the website, the customer service, and price.

The only downside for us was that since we live in the New York Time Zone and most of the tutors live in Japan, many of the lessons I wanted to try were not available during my children’s after-school hours (because that would be the middle of the night in Japan). The tutors we found were Japanese teachers who had moved to Hawaii or the mainland.

Our family was given a few free lessons in exchange for a review. To be honest though, we enjoyed Cafetalk so much that I’ve already paid for a few lessons as well!

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I think this service is a great supplement to my children’s Japanese education. I know that in a few years, Japanese School may become too difficult or sports will get in the way of attending. So Cafetalk may become our alternative to Japanese School at that time.

I highly recommend Cafetalk if you want to learn Japanese (any level– beginner or advanced, and any age!). It is great for people who want to learn from home, or live in an area where getting a private tutor is difficult or expensive.

Cafetalk has generously offered Hiragana Mama readers 500 free points! You can use your points to purchase any lesson. Click HERE for your free points!

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The 500 points will be delivered to your account only if you sign up using this special link.  Also, the points will be usable only for 30 days after you sign up. 

Please let me know what lessons you tried and how you liked it!

Love, Hiragana Mama

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“Friends” by Aiko Ikegami

15 Apr

 

It is no secret that our family is obsessed with books, both English and Japanese. We go to the local library every week and come home with piles of books. I often do my research online beforehand, looking up the most recent award-winners, reading Amazon reviews, etc so I know what I’m looking for.

A few weeks ago I walked by the “New Books” section at the library and this pretty book caught my eye:

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It is “Friends”, by Aiko Ikegami. I was lured in by the cover illustration, and when I saw that the author was Japanese, the book immediately went into my library bag.

We were pleased to find that not only were the illustrations beautiful, but the story was wonderful as well. Here is the synopsis:

A girl from a faraway place begins her first day at school. She doesn’t speak the language and she looks different. She just doesn’t fit in. But one day, she makes an unexpected friend–a squirrel! Then a rabbit joins them. Soon the girl’s fuzzy woodland friends are followed by human ones and school becomes more fun! When a surprising new student joins the class, the girl and her new friends know just how to make him feel at home.

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I don’t know about you, but I can relate all-too-well to being the new kid at school. I moved around several times as a child, and can tell you that it is nerve-wracking to begin life at a new school, and especially in a new language. My children have never moved, but they got a taste of this feeling when we visited Japan last summer and I enrolled them in school for a few weeks. My kids were shocked at how different everything was. The food–the routines–the discipline–the bathrooms–the language– ! But the wonderful thing about children is, they are great at making friends, even with a cultural or language barrier. This book shows how easy it is to reach out to someone new and help them feel welcome.

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I highly recommend this book for all children. It is simple and short but can help you begin a conversation with your children about what to do if a new kid joins their class- or might help ease their worries if THEY are the new kid. I was thinking it would be nice to have several copies on hand to give out to any new kids in my children’s classes. How thoughtful would it be to gift them a book like this with a hand-written note? Might be wise for teachers to have a copy as well.

One last idea– this would make a sweet farewell gift for a Japanese student returning to Japan, or an exchange student. You could include a message about how you’re glad to have become friends!

Anyway, I liked the book so much that I looked up the author/illustrator online. She has a website at: aikoikegami.com. I was thrilled to discover that she lives in the same city as my parents and immediately sent her a note telling her how much we enjoyed her book and if we could meet someday.

Aiko was kind enough to send me a signed hardcover copy of her book to give away to a blog reader! If you would like a chance at winning this book, simply leave a comment on this blog post saying who you’d give this book to and why. (Book giveaway only open to U.S. residents). I’ll announce the winner on Monday April 18! (Don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear right away… sometimes it takes me awhile to check and approve the comments!)

Giveaway is now CLOSED! I used Random.org, and the winner is commenter #1!!

“G”, please email hiraganamama@gmail.com within a week to claim the book! Thank you everyone else for commenting!

Thank you, Ikegami-san! We look forward to reading your future books!

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“Friends” by Aiko Ikegami can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Benesse Challenge Touch Review!

9 Sep

 

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Last year I introduced you to Benesse’s Challenge Touch/Kodomo Challenge program on this post. The program is for elementary aged children and offers a monthly downloadable curriculum. Many of you were just as interested in this program as I was.
This summer when I visited Tokyo, I happened upon their new Aoyama Area Benesse in the Shibuya/Omotesando neighborhood. The one in Aoyama is the flagship store, but there are locations all over Japan. These “Area Benesse” offices can help you answer questions about Benesse programs and products, sign up for services, try out materials, etc.

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When we entered the building, we were immediately greeted by very friendly staff. One staff member helped my 7 and 5-year olds get started on some activities while I asked another staff member questions.

The biggest question I had was, “Can we use the Challenge Touch program in the United States?“.

The answer was yes… and maybe. Yes, as long as you have reliable internet connection, you can use the Challenge Touch tablet and download the monthly curriculum anywhere. The only problems you then face are:

  • Benesse will only ship its products to a Japanese address (at least that’s how it is currently). So you will either need to go to Japan and buy it while you are there (we had them ship the tablet to our hotel) or have it sent to a friend or relative, then have them ship it to you.
  • If your tablet happens to break, you will need to pay the shipping back to Japan, as well as have your friend/relative ship you the new one, which can be costly and a hassle.

We decided to take the risks and sign up to do the Challenge Touch program for one year. I thought the pricing was very reasonable. With the exchange rate the way it is now, it came down to about $25 per month (and the tablet is free as long as you continue the program for at least 6 months!). I also signed up for the insurance program, which was only about $15 per year. If you sign up for insurance, if your tablet breaks, you can get a new one for around $30 (otherwise I think they said a new tablet costs about $300).

A few days after putting in our order, our package arrived. In it was our tablet computer and some paper educational materials like workbooks and a kanji dictionary. (They actually sent us materials for the wrong grade at first. I contacted them and they immediately sent me the correct grade level).

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We charged up the device, entered our login information, and then downloaded our first month’s program. It was pretty easy! (If you don’t know Japanese well, all of this might be difficult to navigate. The program is designed for children grades 1-6 who can speak Japanese already, not for adults learning Japanese for the first time).

The program was very easy for my second-grader to figure out on her own. She had a lot of fun playing with all the features. She completed her first two assignments in Kokugo (Japanese) and Sansu (math) and declared it was awesome. The program does a really great job at keeping kids motivated and having fun while learning. We are currently going on month 3 of using the program and she still loves using the Challenge Touch every day.

Other things we love about the Challenge Touch program:

  • There is an online library where you can borrow 5 electronic books at a time. There are hundreds of titles to choose from! This is included in the monthly fee.
  • You can practice writing kanji and play a game where you learn the multiplication tables, even when you are not connected to the internet.
  • My daughter enjoys sending me emails every day.
  • Just 3 months into the program, I can already tell my daughter is better at reading and writing kanji.

Some cons:

  • I didn’t realize Benesse sends out paper materials every few months, even if you just signed up for the electronic version. This is great, except I feel badly my aunt in Japan has to go through the hassle of forwarding all these materials over for us. I wish I could just pay a little extra to have everything sent to the U.S.
  • I am constantly worried my kids are going to break the tablet, haha. We have a rule in our house where they MUST be sitting at a desk if they are using it (no standing, walking around, laying on the couch, etc). We’ve also lectured them about not pressing too hard with the pen. So far so good.
  • The voltage is different here. Easy problem to fix though, we just use a transformer:

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My kids normally use headphones as well when doing benkyou (study) on the Touch. We highly recommend this one! It is sized perfectly for kids’ heads, had a durable cord, and I don’t have to worry about the volume being turned up too loud. Headphones are a must for us because with 3 kids running around our little house, it can get quite noisy and hard to concentrate.

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Bottom line is that we are so glad we took a chance and decided to try the Benesse Challenge Touch program. I can see us continuing for the next few years, and may even get a second device for our son when he begins first grade. I hope that someday soon they will make the program downloadable for iPads– wouldn’t that be nice?

Read more about the Kodomo Challenge program HERE and feel free to contact them if you have any questions. They are very nice!

 

I am NOT affiliated with Benesse and have NOT received any free products or compensation for writing this review. 

Japanese Back to School Supplies!

6 Aug

Have you all  started your back-to-school shopping yet? We have enjoyed our summer but I can’t wait to get back to the school routine (and have some peace and quiet in my house– ha!).

Something that (I feel) is far superior in Japan are school and office supplies. The pencils and erasers my kids use at their American school are always breaking/doesn’t erase well. We went to an office supply store while we were in Japan and I was in heaven! So many high quality supplies, and designed well too.

I came back to the U.S. and was pleasantly surprised that many Japanese school supplies are available on Amazon! And you can’t beat the free shipping. I gathered some of my favorite items into my Amazon store for you here. I’ll keep adding as I find more:

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My 7-year old daughter and I highly recommend these MONO erasers. She chooses these over her cute, character-shaped erasers every time because they WORK!

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My son would go crazy over this Yokai Watch Bento Box. I would buy this for him if I hadn’t just recently purchased a Super Mario one for him in Japan! (My kids are currently obsessed with this show… maybe I’ll write a post about it later).

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And it’s time to kick it into high gear with our Japanese studies. I find that my kids’ Japanese gets worse once the school year begins because they are immersed in English so much of the day. Thankfully, there are now a lot of Japanese-language materials available online now, like this Hiragana Practice Board.

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What back to school supplies do you like the most? Are you excited for your kids to go back, or do you wish summer could last a little longer?

NHK for School!

27 Jan

Dear Hiragana Mama Readers, thank you so much for sticking around! We welcomed a new baby girl into our family a few months ago and have been savoring these fleeting newborn days. I have even less free time than before, but I really wanted to share this website with you today: NHK for School.

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I visited this site a few years ago and back then, it was nothing to write home about. But now, it is a fabulous GOLDMINE of educational resources for the school-aged student. The site contains thousands of educational episodes and video clips, along with suggestions for how to use it at school/home. The content can be searched by grade level (first grade through high school) or by subject (Japanese, math, social studies, science, art, physical education, etc). It is pretty awesome.

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Now, I wouldn’t recommend this site for people who are just beginning to learn Japanese, or toddlers. If you don’t know a little bit of Japanese, it might be hard to navigate this site. The website was designed for students in Japan to supplement their learning at school. This site is perfect for those of us living overseas trying to teach our children about the Japanese language and culture. I feel like this is a great mid-week supplement to Japanese School (hoshuuko). If you can’t afford TV Japan, this is a great alternative. You can read more about the purpose of NHK for School in English, here.

Anyway, if you haven’t already checked it , click this link and enjoy!! http://www.nhk.or.jp/school/

Japanese Children’s Books About the Number 100

25 Feb

We are still celebrating the 100th Day of School over here 🙂 My daughter dressed up like a 100-year old grandma at school yesterday… it was so cute!

I found it ironic and perfectly fitting that my daughter came home from Japanese School last Saturday with this book:

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image from kaiseisha.co.jp

The book is titled “100かいだてのいえ(The 100-Story House)” by いわいとしお (Toshio Iwai). This is actually the 3rd time my daughter has borrowed this book from the library. My kids just love it. The illustrations are charming and the story is quite magical. Another book in this series is “ちか100かいだてのいえ(Basement 100-Story House)”. Click the links to preview a few pages! I would recommend it for preschool through elementary school children.

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image from kaikeisha.co.jp

Also at Japanese School last Saturday, there was a special meeting for parents where a Japanese expert on Read-Alouds came to demonstrate how to read children’s books out loud to children. This meeting was very inspirational for me, and I made it a goal to do a better job reading to my kids. I want to use a more animated voice, not be afraid to read more slowly and pause between sentences, and take the time to go back and forth between the pages and discuss the book with my children.

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image from amazon.co.jp

Anyway, one of the books she read out loud to us was “100万回生きたねこ(The Cat Who Lived a Million Times)”by佐野洋子. This book was a longer picture book but it was beautiful. The recommended age for this book is elementary-school through adults. I think the older you are, the better you’ll be able to appreciate the depth of this story. (I don’t think my kids could sit through this book. But I really enjoyed it!). It looks like this book is also being made into a documentary, due out the end of this year.

Here is a video of buffalo.voice reading this book out loud:

Want to work on counting to 100 with your kids? Here is a printable worksheet from Happy Lilac.

Benesse Challenge Touch (チャレンジタッチ)

9 Feb

With my daughter starting first grade (一年生) at her Japanese Language School soon, I have been looking into how to best prepare her for the more challenging studies ahead. I will be sharing all the great resources I have found for first-graders with you on this blog!

In the meanwhile, I wanted to know if any of you have heard of or are planning to try the brand-new “Challenge Touch/チャレンジタッチ” program by Benesse? They are the company that does the Kodomo Challenge/Shimajiro programs. In the past, they have offered monthly subscriptions for their learning packets which have included books, DVDs, and educational toys. Beginning in April 2014, they are rolling out a new program for elementary aged children where all of those materials are being replaced by a tablet. Each month, new material will be downloaded onto the tablet. Children use the touch pen to learn and practice kokugo (hiragana, katakana, kanji, etc), math, English, etc. Here are some videos to show you what it’s like.

For lower elementary grades:

For upper elementary grades:

See more sample videos here.

I am SUPER interested and hope this will be available to those of us living overseas. I am getting to the point where I feel like I’ve taught my daughter almost all the Japanese words that I know and she is starting to fall behind her native-Japanese friends at school. We can use all the help that we can get. I plan to send Bennesse an email and will let you know what I find out.

UPDATE: Challenge Touch will work outside of Japan if you have a wifi connection. However, it must be ordered by someone who lives in Japan (so if you have a relative that is willing to have this program sent to their home, then forward it on to you, this may work for you).

Japanese School Fun Fair

18 Dec

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Every year, the Japanese School we attend hosts a “Fun Fair” for its students and surrounding community. At this event, children travel around to different stations to play games, make crafts, wear kimonos, and participate in many other activities to help them better understand the Japanese culture.

Like all the other activities at Japanese School, this event is run by parent volunteers. Something I love about Japanese culture is how efficiently everyone works together. As I helped put up decorations for this event, I looked around and marveled at how hard and cooperatively everyone was working to pull this off for our kids. I didn’t see anyone sitting around or trying to get away with doing as little as possible.

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Some of the stations were:

1) Japanese calligraphy (しゅうじ)

2) Origami (おりがみ)

3) Paper-airplane making (かみひこうき)

4) Beanbag-toss

5) Yo-yo-scooping (ヨーヨーつり)

6) Super-ball scooping (スーパーボールすくい)

7) Tea Ceremony

8) Wear traditional kimonos/yukatas

9) Kendama (けんだま)

10) Hane-tsuki (はねつき)

11) Kendo (けんどう)

12) Karuta (カルタ)

13) Fukuwarai (ふくわらい)

14) Spinning tops (こままわし)

15) Used (Japanese) books sale

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Does the Japanese School near you host events like this?

Simple Hiragana Chant

25 Oct

A simple & straightforward way to teach hiragana to toddlers! Repetition really is a great teaching tool!

video by babylionmovie on YouTube

2013 Kodomo No Hi /こどもの日!

5 May

Happy Children’s Day! I know I am late getting this post up… sorry! I hope everyone had a wonderful day. I am so grateful for my own children who bring so much fun and love into my life, and for all the other children I know!

Today we invited some friends over for a special Okosama Lunch (lunch for children).

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This year’s Okosama lunch(お子様ランチ) featured shrimp fried rice, potato and beef croquettes/korokke, and purin for dessert.

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At Japanese School, they made kabuto hats out of newspaper:

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And lastly, I want to show off my awesome mom. She teaches at a Japanese preschool (wish she lived closer!) and always comes up with the best ideas for crafts. For Kodomo No Hi this year, she and the children made these paper bag koinobori. She said she just used brown paper bags from the grocery store. I want to try making these next year!

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For  more Japanese Children’s Day ideas, just search “Kodomo No Hi” in the search toolbar to the right! 🙂 Lots more ideas on my Pinterest board as well. Thank you for reading!

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